Tuesday, April 1

Thriving (Wo)men

I love how apparently disparate things connect. . . at least in my head. I hope I can make them connect for you. To give you some context, I've been thinking more about Sheryl Sandberg's "ban bossy" campaign and the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative, aka @BAWSI. I wrote about the two in this blog post. Since then, I've learned that the CEO of BAWSI and Sheryl Sandberg might have the opportunity to talk. How awesome will that be??

So here begins the trail of disparate things. First, women in political leadership roles. Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister of Ukraine, planning to seek its presidency. Angela Merkel, stalwart prime minister of Germany. Marine La Pen challenging Francoise Hollande in France. The long and short of it is that we have seen women in significant leadership roles in politics around the world. In the U.S., we have women in the Senate and the House as well as holding governorships. Hillary Clinton, who is likely to make a run for president, was the third female Secretary of State.

And yet, yes, we seem to lack for female leadership in business. One of the factoids shared by Sheryl Sandberg in her TEDTalk (2010) is that women in C-level positions topped out at 14% or 15%. But then I read an article about Sophia Amoruso, founder of Nasty Gal and whose new book is titled #GIRLBOSS (Love it!). She took a small ecommerce business to $100M+ business in seven years.

Then I started looking around for more of these women who have launched smaller businesses. Not the Fortune 500 monoliths, but the agile, forward-thinking, still entrepreneurial businesses. A lot of those are run by women; read the Forbes story on 2014 being a breakout year for women entrepreneurs. And then I started wondering why it's so important for women to be in the top positions of big organizations. I started wondering why we don't celebrate these smaller companies run by smart, entrepreneurial women, especially when those business often burgeon into something much larger and much more significant. Why not consider the re-imagining of the (business) world through these smaller businesses? Or are we too dismissive of the small companies because the women might be business dilettantes? If it's women making that judgment, shame on us.

Then I started thinking about Angela Ahrendts who is the new Chief Retail Officer for Apple; and  Mary Barra, who has been CEO for General Motors since January and is facing and handling a massive recall that probably should have been executed months ago by her male predecessor; and Janet Yellen, first female Chair of the Federal Reserve. Yes, these are HUGE organizations now being run by women. Are these women, and any of the 100 "women to watch" listed by Forbes last year, deserving of more scrutiny because they are women? Or will they be judged differently because they are women? The answers are "no" and "probably."

In December 2013, Sandberg was interviewed on the TEDTalk stage. At the top of this interview, Sandberg addressed why, from her perspective, she never talked about being a woman in the work place; her recognition that there were fewer and fewer women in the upper ranks; her recognition that gender equality was yet a dream to be realized; her acknowledgement that it is harder to be a leader in business and a woman, especially for mothers.

So it occurred to me that when she listened to Pat Mitchell, who advised Sandberg to tell the story of her daughter begging her not to go, and she told the story, three things happened. First, she listened to a mentor. We all need mentors who will advise us well and in our own best interests. Second, she got personal. Not intimate, but personal and reminded everyone that being a woman and being a leader is fraught with difficulties, but not impossible. More importantly, however, for all of those working dads and stay-at-home dads, though there are fewer of them, the message is equally true: being a parent and being a business leader is hard and tough choices will be made.

The third thing that happened is that she offered a teachable moment. Educators and coaches know about these moments--a question has been asked or a statement made that practically necessitates you put whatever is happening on hold to address that moment. Everyone needs a mentor or coach at some time in their lives and careers, both male and female. Making choices between the personal and the professional will be hard and no one can help you measure the value of the decision but you, which is another reason to have a good mentor or coach.

And that made me think of the glass ceiling, something about which women and feminists have been talking for decades. In November 2013, Hillary Clinton stated there were about "18 million cracks" in the highest of the glass ceilings in the US. She also announced the No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project: "We believe that the best way to unlock human potential is through the power of creative collaboration. That's why we build partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, better, and leaner; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow."

If you're familiar with Kiva, DonorsChoose, and other like organizations, you recognize that sometimes the best way to make a difference is to start small.

And that made me think about how we know to grow. . .working with mentors, having a support system, taking advantage of teachable moments, and human about our professional lives through self-knowledge, which led me to Wendy Manning, who oversees web strategy and integration for The Boeing Co. in Chicago.

And then I found this video about what girls think about being bossy. It's a great interview of kids and what they think bossy means, and how it differs from being a leader. I don't think their perceptions are so different from many of us older women (and I say that with a smile on my face), but I couldn't help but wonder if perceptions of "bossy" are based on culture, age, and, of course, experience. Meh. Let's not get bogged down by that because then we'll chase around in circles trying to ascertain cause and effect.

Let's get back to BAWSI with plans to expand "its reach beyond the Bay Area with a pair of national initiatives that utilize our experience and our passion to help female athletes around the country make an impact in their communities and choose to matter through authentic and intentional service."

And that made me think of Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) and her Choose to Matter movement in the K-12 education realm. You can check out Angela's TEDTalk here and her manifesto here. It also made me think of Meenoo Rami (@menoorami)and her new book, Thrive, which inspired the title of this blog post. You should buy the book and read it, but I'll share the chapter titles with you: 1-"Turn to Mentors;" 2-"Join and Build Networks;" 3-"Keep Your Work Intellectually Challenging;" 4-"Listen to Yourself;" and 5-"Empower Your Students."

So much of Meenoo says in her book is true for any leader, who can empower his or her employees or team who are, in many ways, students. So much of what Meenoo writes in her book collects these similar ideas of what it means to be an individual who thrives, who gives back, who choose to make a difference, and who chooses to matter.

For just a moment let's loop back to that word "bossy," which means that the individual tends to be domineering, overly authoritative. We don't like that behavior in men or women.

How does all of this come together? By looking ahead. This is where we are. We don't yet have gender equality just as we don't yet have race equality. However, rather than having parallel initiatives, let's make them complementary projects.

  • we can choose to be leaders or support leaders if leadership is not our thing;
  • we can encourage people to be creative(ly) collaborative;
  • we can pause whenever anyone calls anyone "bossy" and use it as a teachable moment;
  • we can be mentors and part of a support system;
  • we can choose to matter; and
  • we can choose to make an impact.
Maybe it'll be another 20 years or more before a larger percentage of women are in corner offices of humongous organizations. In the mean time, let's get "bawsi" in the sense of being those agents of change in the moment and in the situations in which find ourselves.

P.S. What would be amazingly cool: Brandi Chastain, Chelsea and/or Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Sophia Amuroso, Angela Ahrendts, Angela Maiers, Meeno Rami, and Wendy Manning in a room to talk about teachable moments for men, women, girls, and boys. I'd also want to invite some less high-profile folks, especially from education and organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But all that passion and potential for creative collaboration in one place? Yowza!

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